R.I. Quidnessett Country Club tries to get CRMC permission for seawall it already built

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The Quidnessett Country Club at some point last year built the wall — technically called a riprap revetment — along its 14th hole, according to state regulators . Landowners need permission to build anything close to the coast in Rhode Island, much less seawalls, which aren’t allowed at all next to the types of waters where Quidnessett allegedly built one. .
PROVIDENCE — A North Kingstown golf course that allegedly built a seawall along Narragansett Bay conservation waters without asking permission has started the process of trying to get it after the fact.
Quidnessett is now trying to get out of the regulatory rough by changing the definition of those waters. If successful, the club said it would then apply for approval of the wall that has already been built.
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The club’s lawyer told state regulators that the uses of the waters where the wall was built have changed since they were originally designated as so-called Type 1 conservation waters. They should be designated as Type 2, or low-intensity-use waters, the club argues. Those types of waters have fewer restrictions. The club has spent more than $1 million over 30 years on non-structural shoreline protections to prevent erosion and damage, the only types allowed in Type 1 waters, but they haven’t protected the course from stronger and more frequent storms.
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“Without the flexibility afforded for shoreline protection in areas abutting Type 2 waters, the QCC will certainly lose a critical piece of its historic 18-hole golf course, and result in devastating losses to both its business and members, as well as thousands of individuals, businesses, and associations across the state that use QCC for professional golf tournaments, charity events, fundraisers, weddings, proms, and countless other engagements,” the club’s lawyer, Jennifer Cervenka, said in the petition to state regulators.
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Cervenka previously served as chair of the regulatory agency she’s now petitioning, the Coastal Resources Management Council.
CRMC does not allow structural shoreline protections like seawalls or revetments in so-called Type 1 waters. They are allowed in Type 2 waters, but they still have to meet a number of requirements and go through a permitting process first.
The environmental group Save The Bay is now teeing off on the country club’s effort to get permission to build a wall that’s already been built, saying that letting it remain while entertaining a water type change undermines the state’s coastal program, and encourages others to violate the law.
“This is a flagrant and egregious violation of the law that is bad for the Bay,” said Topher Hamblett, the group’s executive director. “The CRMC should require the Club to remove the wall now, and impose the maximum penalty to hold them accountable for violating the law.”
Regardless of how the water is classified, the wall shouldn’t be permitted due the shoreline’s ecological value, Hamblett said.
“Naturally eroding bluffs provide sand for beach and intertidal area,” Hamblett said. “Walls, however, worsen erosion at adjacent, natural shorelines. They also prevent coastal habitats from being able to move inland, resulting in the loss of salt marshes and beaches. Walls also preclude lateral access along the shoreline.”
One entity that was apparently familiar with regulations relating to structural shoreline protections was Quidnessett itself. Over a decade ago, it applied for a sheet pile wall, which CRMC’s staff recommended denying.
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Hamblett said that “it appears that (the Quidnessett Country Club) decided to build this massive wall without a permit and seek forgiveness if caught.”
In its own enforcement actions, CRMC issued a series of fines, but hasn’t explicitly said the club has to tear down the wall.
“We’re treating this like we do every application: it is being reviewed by permit staff (and policy staff because it’s a proposed policy change),” Laura Dwyer, spokeswoman for CRMC, said in an email. “We’re following our Management Procedures, as well as (the Administrative Procedure Act).”
The coastal agency is one of the most heavily scrutinized corners of state government. It has a respected professional staff whose decisions are sometimes countered by a politically appointed council. And its big responsibilities in a state with a lot of coastline come without the resources to match, according to environmental advocates who have pushed for wholesale reforms of the agency.
Quidnessett’s wall is sure to come up as scrutiny of CRMC continues. In fact, it already has.
“CRMC, with its limited staff to patrol the shoreline, did not discover this blatant violation,” said Save The Bay’s Hamblett. “It was brought to the agency’s attention by Save The Bay, after being reported by a concerned citizen.”
Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him @bamaral44.

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